Wayne County to pursue civil lawsuits against vendors in alleged corruption scheme

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County will pursue civil litigation against unnamed vendors connected to an alleged $1.7 million theft scheme two county employees were charged federally in this week, officials said Thursday.

Assad Turfe, chief of staff to Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, gave an update on the corruption case at the Wayne County Commission's Thursday meeting, but did not take any questions.

Assad Turfe, Wayne County executive's chief of staff.

Turfe said that in addition to the county employees charged, "the vendors are being investigated," both criminally and for civil liability.

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"I can tell you that the vendors are being investigated by the Wayne County prosecutor  and the U.S. Attorney's Office," Turfe said. "I don't work for the prosecutor or the U.S. attorney. I can't tell you if charges will happen. But if I was a betting man, I would tell you justice will be served."

Turfe said the county's corporation counsel is working with outside attorneys and will "go after the vendor civilly for every dollar that was stolen."

Turfe said the county received a tip about possible theft in March 2021. 

"Something here didn't look right, didn't sound right," so the sheriff's office began to investigate, Turfe said.

In time, the investigation needed more resources than the sheriff's office had, so the county called the feds. 

After Turfe's brief presentation, Commissioner Raymond Basham, D-Taylor, suggested another avenue for investigation.

Basham suggested the suspects had also filed for "extensive overtime."

Commission Chair Alisha Bell, D-Detroit, said that "after the everything has concluded, we'll certainly have a more robust conversation on this: the hows and whys and what we could do in the future to make sure it doesn't happen again." 

Turfe had nothing more to add, citing the ongoing investigation.

Federal agents raided a West Bloomfield Township home Tuesday and arrested two Wayne County employees accused of using taxpayer money to buy power equipment worth more than $1.7 million that they later sold for personal profit.

The allegations were contained in an unsealed criminal case against Wayne County Roads Division Manager Kevin Gunn, 64, of West Bloomfield and Foreman John Gibson, 54, of Detroit.

The alleged scheme involved 596 generators and other power equipment that was never supplied or used by the county.

The alleged scheme started in January 2019 and lasted until August and involved Gunn soliciting county vendors to buy generators, lawnmowers, chainsaws and backpack blowers from area retailers, according to the court filing.

"It is unfortunate that a few individuals put their personal gain ahead of the work the county has done over the last seven years to stabilize our fiscal outlook, continue improvements to our infrastructure and provide services to our residents throughout a global pandemic," Evans, the county executive, said in a statement Tuesday.

"These individuals have undoubtedly put a stain on the fabric of our system."

jdickson@detroitnews.com